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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Mar 23) – Government, farmers, exporters and experts have joined forces to develop a high quality vanilla export industry in Solomon Islands.

A two-day workshop has brought together all stakeholders to hear from regional Vanuatu vanilla expert Piero Bianchessi, and develop a one year plan to start a vanilla industry - from farmer to curer to market.

Vanilla Project Manager Michael Max said the climate in Solomon Islands is good for vanilla, and it suits local farming systems.

Silas Tome, a farmer at the workshop, grows cocoa and coconut but has recently also planted vanilla crops.

"Vanilla is easy to grow and sells for a high price. The important thing is the technique to get good pollination and good curing of the vanilla. Coming to this workshop helps us understand how to grow better vanilla", he said.

Vanilla is not new to the Solomon Islands. In 1965 it was imported from Hawaii and planted out mainly for experimental purposes. Currently vanilla is selling for USD20/kg.

Mr Bianchessi said Vanuatu began commercial production 12 years ago and now produces two tones of vanilla for the international market.

"Countries like Vanuatu and Solomon Islands can compete on the international market by selling to people who want high quality, organic vanilla.

"This workshop is the first step in getting the whole industry together to understand what the market wants and how to work in partnership to deliver a high quality product: from the farmer, to the curer and finally the exporter," he said in a statement yesterday.

The Vanilla Project is a partnership between the government, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands-funded TSAP Program and CSP. The project aims to increase economic growth in the Solomon Islands.

Over the next five years the Vanilla Project aims to:

1. Boost rural incomes through better production, curing, distribution and marketing of premium quality vanilla

2. Develop a significant vanilla export industry in Solomon Islands based on premium quality vanilla.

RAMSI Development Coordinator, Blair Exell said RAMSI understands the need to support broad-based growth across the Solomon Islands.

"The work RAMSI is doing in partnership with the Solomon Islands Government - from supporting law and order to building up the capacity of the government with civilian advisers - is all about providing a strong base for economic growth by supporting projects like these".

Mr Exell urged the farmers attending the workshop to share the lessons with other farmers who were not as lucky to attend this workshop.

"This is the best way for the whole vanilla industry to come up strong is by sharing knowledge and working together," he said.

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